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T HERE HAS BEEN a recent shift towards an increasingly ‘personalised’ approach to teaching and learning; that is, ‘tailoring teaching and learning to indi- vidual need’ (DFES, 2001) where inclusivity for learners is key (Rayner, 2007). Throughout the last 30 years, this approach has incorporated learning styles theory which stems from the belief that learners differ in personality traits, brain function and preferred environment (Coffield et al., 2004a), leading to varied strengths and weak- nesses in receiving, assimilating and retaining information. The claim is that knowing one’s preferences will improve motivation to learn and/or provide opportu- nities to approach learning appropriately (Honey & Mumford, 1992). Many educational institutions diagnose student learning styles with the aim of plan- ning lessons to suit a range of methods of learning. This approach is supported by professional bodies, for example, the Quali- fications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) state that learners should be made aware of their preferred learning style in order to improve performance (QCA, 2009). Some highlight the benefits of such practice for students, for example improving retention (Halstead & Martin, 2002). Others feel the theoretical basis for learning styles use lacks clarity (Klein, 2003) and the absence of substantial empirical research leaves ques- tions about the effectiveness of the approach (Burton, 2007). It has been suggested that a lack of understanding of the theoretical underpinning of policy related to learning styles, along with a diverse literature adopting different theoretical approaches, is problematic for practitioners in terms of effectively planning personalised learning opportunities (Coffield et al., 2004a). Due to the pedagogical popularity of learning styles, diverse literature has been produced, including variations on the theme in cognitive styles, multiple intelligences, approaches to learning and more. Desmedt and Valcke (2004) found recurring themes and consistency in models but little informa- tion on the impact of the concepts they Psychology Teaching Review Vol. 16 No 2 67 © The British Psychological Society 2010 Learning styles in the classroom: Educational benefit or planning exercise? Sarah J. Allcock & Julie A. Hulme Differentiation of teaching is encouraged to accommodate student diversity. This study investigated whether using learning styles as a basis for differentiation improved A-level student performance, compared to differentiation on the basis of academic ability. Matched classes of A-level psychology students participated. In one class, learning activities were differentiated by academic ability; in the other class, learning activities were differentiated by learning style for nine weeks, followed by a further class test. Student understanding of learning styles was also investigated.

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